In August 2009, Nebraska Farm Bureau then President, Keith Olsen, warned that health insurance costs could skyrocket for farmers and ranchers under the Obama administration’s proposal to mandate certain kinds of health insurance. “A large majority of food producers are self-employed, and many buy their own health insurance without the benefit of being part of a group,” said Olsen. “Requiring compulsory health insurance in the form of an individual coverage mandate or forcing insurers to cover everyone will mean higher insurance premiums.” Olsen also pointed out that farmers and ranchers would likely suffer the most with increased health insurance premiums associated with adoption of those policies given farmers and ranchers inability to pass increased costs onto customers, an option available to other businesses.
His assessment of the harm that could fall on farm and ranch families wasn’t based on half-baked guesses, but a 2008 study conducted by researchers from MIT, the Brookings Institute, and Brigham Young University. The study examined the implementation of community rating and guarantee issue on health insurance premium increases in the state of New Jersey, which had adopted both community rating and guaranteed issue laws. In short, the study found that implementation of both resulted in health insurance premium increases of 108 to 227 percent for high-deductible family policies.
Flash forward to today, nearly a decade after passage of the “Affordable Care Act”, and Olsen’s warnings about skyrocketing health insurance premiums in the individual market and the impact on farmers and ranchers associated with Obamacare were not only “spot on,” but prove it’s not always good to be right.
Escalating health care and health insurance costs were among the top concerns registered by farmers and ranchers who attended Nebraska Farm Bureau listening sessions held across the state this summer. Whether it was reports of health care premiums becoming the first or second highest living expense, stories of a spouse having to find off-farm work to secure employer provided health insurance, or families (young and old) dropping health care insurance all together, I heard directly from those struggling with how to deal with skyrocketing health insurance costs.
While disheartening, what I heard was not surprising. In the spring of 2017, Nebraska Farm Bureau conducted a non-scientific survey of Farm Bureau members to find out how they were dealing with the evolving implications of Obamacare, as rumors continued to swirl about insurance companies pulling out of the individual market place because of concerns about the economic viability of such plans. Nearly 850 members participated in the survey. The results clearly showed that farm and ranch families were negatively impacted at a much higher level than their urban cousins in dealing with growth in premiums in the individual market. Nearly 98 percent of the farmers and ranchers surveyed overwhelmingly expressed dissatisfaction with the cost and benefits of their health insurance.
The ongoing sting of Obamacare and the clear need for help is what led Nebraska Farm Bureau to take the challenging path of developing a new, first of its kind, large group association health plan specifically for farmers, ranchers, and agribusinesses. Partnering with Medica, this new plan is helping us to lower costs for farm and ranch families who’ve been squeezed out of the individual market because of escalating premiums. We’re looking to give these farm and ranch families different options; ones that don’t force spouses to find off-farm work or forgo health insurance all together. Fresh off the general election, farmers and ranchers know all too well that actions of our elected leaders have consequences. None better than those who’ve made life altering decisions as they’ve reeled through nearly a decade of Obamacare.
Steve Nelson is president of the Nebraska Farm Bureau and farms with his son near Axtell, Nebraska.